Culture ‘is part of Limerick’s story’ ahead of 2020

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Members of the Limerick 2020 bid team pictured at Colbert Station on their return last Friday: Sheila Deegan, Mary Conlon, Kathleen Turner, Evelyn Noonan, Kathy OGrady, Dominique Bouchard and Mike Fitzpatrick. Picture:Munster Images

FOUR cities made their pitch over two days in Dublin. When the announcement came as to who had made the next round of the European Capital of Culture 2020 process, the tension was unbearable.

The Three Sisters cluster of Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny was named first as making the shortlist. Then Limerick, and finally Galway. Dublin was eliminated.

The pitching process – 30 minutes, followed by an hour of “tough questioning” – was carried out by officials nominated by the European Commission, who regulate the process. The 2020 designation is to be awarded jointly to an Irish and Croatian city.

Dubrovnik, Osijek, Pula and Rijeka have made it to the next stage in Croatia. The winner will be announced in March 2016. For Ireland it will be July.

It is difficult to estimate what the prized designation is worth to the selected city. Certainly there is no limitless fund on offer to programme the bid - with the EU awarding roughly €1.5m at the end of 2020. The costs must be underwritten by the host nation. There are European funds available, however.

There is prestige and an opportunity to rebrand on offer. Limerick has already come through a strong cultural re-branding after City of Culture – an Irish government initiative, not to be confused with the EU Capital of Culture process. Creative Europe’s Cultural Office in Dublin stresses that “European Capitals of Culture has grown into one of the most ambitious cultural projects in Europe and one of the best known – and most appreciated – activities of the EU”.

“Being shortlisted for the title can result in significant cultural, economic and social benefits for the cities concerned, provided that their bid is part of a longer-term culture-led development strategy,” it said.

Bid director Mike Fitzpatrick pointed to this after the shortlist was announced. The team must now prepare another lengthy and detailed submission, which must appeal to the European officials; it must speak their language.

“Honestly, we needed to be in that second round to develop the plans we have, regardless of whether we win or lose in the second round,” he said. “Because there are so many exciting things going on, it keeps the momentum and our goal of 2020 to 2030 is very concrete. It builds that momentum and with or without the designation, culture is part of the picture now, part of the story.”

The theme for Limerick’s bid is titled Multiplicity, specifically referring to the “many diverse elements across Limerick that can be brought together within the brackets of culture”. Mr Fitzpatrick agreed that proceeding to the next stage could be a richly rewarding one in formulating and developing these cultural policies further.

“I think so and it allows for more engagement with people and cultural creatives maybe in Limerick or throughout the world will maybe be saying, well, ‘you guys are going for this now, are in the final stages of it, we would like to be involved or discuss projects’. It builds it from that point of view. It ups the ante and it allows us to really work in depth in it.”

Limerick previously sought the EU Capital of Culture title in 2005, when it was awarded to Cork. Mr Fitzpatrick said that the “whole landscape has changed” since then.

“Everyone around the country realises what a big prize it is and there is great excitement about it. It is a totally different thing – the level of tension here in the room was phenomenal and we are so thrilled to be one of the three.”

Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Liam Galvin, who was part of the 10-person panel that made the pitch in Dublin last Friday, said Limerick was undergoing “a cultural revolution, which in years to come will be reflected upon as one of the landmark, transformative periods in its long and illustrious history.

“Limerick today is a vibrant, melting pot of different cultures and traditions and this has complemented the city’s growing status as a modern, thriving community,” he added.

A huge volume of work will begin anew for the final stage of the 2020 process. The bid team has shown it is up to the task and has a strong story to tell. Now it must do everything it can to bring that title home.


- The European Capital of Culture designation is regulated by the EU Commission and is to be awarded jointly to an Irish and Croatian city in 2020

- Ten people made the pitch for Limerick 2020 - and 10 people sat on the judging panel. The Limerick team was:

- Sheila Deegan and Mike Fitzpatrick; Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Liam Galvin; John Moran, chair of the Hunt Museum; Conn Murray, CEO of the City and County Council; Dominque Bouchard, engagement curator; Mary Conlon of Ormston House; Grainne Hassett of the School of Architecture in UL, Kathleen Turner, musician and God Knows Jonas, musician

- An independent panel was appointed by the EU Commission, the Council, the EU Parliament and the Committee of Regions. They are as follows:

- Steve Green (UK), Jordi Pardo (Spain), Suzana Žilič Fišer (Slovenia), Ulrich Fuchs (Germany), Aiva Rozenberga (Latvia), Pauli Sivonen (Finland), Sylvia Amann (Austria), Cristina Farinha (Portugal), Agnieszka Wlazeł (Poland), Anton Rombouts (Netherlands)